Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

movies

Will Movie Studios Really Learn a Lesson From the Flops of 2010?

At the end of every year, there's a mea culpa from movie studios pledging that they will put out more creative, original films in the future, and this time, the New York Times has the honors, serving up studio apologies in an article entitled "Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow." Noting the box-office success of The Social Network and Inception — and the failure of so many other cynically made summer retreads — writer Brooks Barnes alleges, "The message that the year sent about quality and originality is real enough that studios are tweaking their operating strategies." As evidence, he cites Sony's pick of (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb to helm the new Spider-Man reboot ... a decision made back in January, presumably before any inferences about the quality of 2010's output could be made. In fact, though studio heads claim that originality is on the way, 2011 will be the most franchise-overstuffed year the movies have ever seen. Can we believe their promises?

Here's just a sampling of the mixed messages coming out of the article (and by extension, Hollywood):

• Barnes writes that the underperformance of remakes and TV-to-movie transfers like The Wolfman, The A-Team, and Sex and the City 2 have made studios hesitant to commit to more, but the successes of the The Karate Kid and M. Night Shyamalan's critically eviscerated The Last Airbender tell a different story. Later, the article somehow cites Sony's 21 Jump Street remake as evidence of a bold new studio strategy, simply because chief Amy Pascal is gambling on two animation directors making their live-action debut ... a notion that didn't aid two of 2010's most notorious flops, Jonah Hex (from Horton Hears a Who director Jimmy Hayward) and Gulliver's Travels (directed by Shark Tale's Rob Letterman).

Certainly, it's encouraging that both Inception and The Social Network performed so well, but the only filmmakers who will get to make more original content based on those results are Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, two A-listers who already have final-cut privileges. (Both men will have to put off that presumed original content anyway, as Nolan is committed to The Dark Knight Rises, while Fincher is shooting the English-language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and prepping 20,000 Leagues.) If there really is a change afoot, it will be a while before we see it, since 2011 is so choked with sequels and superheroes that Jon Favreau (whose summer entry Cowboys and Aliens is one of the few without a caped crusader or a number in its title) is comparing the inevitable franchise pileup to Omaha Beach.

• Oddly, Barnes claims that "animation is not as infallible as it has been," and yet six of the year's top fifteen grossers were animated films. What's more, only two of them were sequels, suggesting that family films might actually be more hospitable to originality than most movie genres (just don't expect to see that reflected in 2011, where the biggest cartoons are Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2).

• Though the studios swear they're now committed to original content delivered by top-flight filmmakers, not a single example of such is produced in the entire article. Instead, the only future projects teased include the Spider-Man reboot, 21 Jump Street, a remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Haunted Mansion, another movie based on a Disney ride (one already mined for a failed big-screen transfer in 2003).

Certainly, it's encouraging that both Inception and The Social Network performed so well, but the only filmmakers who will get to make more original content based on those results are Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, two A-listers who already have final-cut privileges. (Both men will have to put off that presumed original content anyway, as Nolan is committed to The Dark Knight Rises, while Fincher is shooting the English-language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and prepping 20,000 Leagues.) If there really is a change afoot, it will be a while before we see it, since 2011 is so choked with sequels and superheroes that Jon Favreau (whose summer entry Cowboys and Aliens is one of the few without a caped crusader or a number in its title) is comparing the inevitable franchise pileup to Omaha Beach.

In fact, if there's one lesson about originality that the studios have really taken to heart, it's the cautionary tale provided by Universal. Over the last two years, Uni put out a daring, diverse group of movies including Drag Me to Hell, Duplicity, Funny People, Bruno, Green Zone, Devil, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the meager box-office returns left the studio reeling. What's on the docket now for the studio, once so admirably committed to quality? Battleship, Stretch Armstrong, and a movie based on a Ouija board. At the the very least, let's hope that at least the excuses are original this time next year.

Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow [NYT]

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn – New Line, Peter Mountain – CTMG, Columbia Pictures